Back

Country Reports

Somalia Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

The struggling Federal Government of Somalia (population 10.8 million), located in the troubled Horn of Africa, is only able to exert its authority over a small part of the territory. The country as a whole remains a high-risk destination.

AREAS TO AVOID

The majority of Western governments advise against all travel to Somalia due to extremely poor security conditions. This advice also applies to the self-declared republic of Somaliland (Awdal, Woqooyi Galbeed, Togdheer, West Sanaag, and West Sool regions).

Despite the fact that attacks by Somali pirates along the country's coastline had become relatively rare in recent years, all boating activities should be strictly avoided. In 2017, there was a resurgence in piracy activity off the country's coast, with a total of nine recorded incidents; up two from 2016. In November 2017, a container ship was unsuccessfully attacked approximately 280 nautical miles east of Mogadishu by armed pirates. This demonstrates that Somali pirates retain the intent and capability to attack vessels hundreds of miles offshore.

SECURITY

The domestic political situation is fragile, the context chaotic, and the security situation extremely volatile due to some 25 years of civil war, leaving the country vulnerable to major flare-ups of violence, including ethnic and sectarian clashes. 

In the central and southern regions of the country, anti-government insurgent groups regularly carry out attacks against security forces, government officials, and infrastructure targets, including airports, government buildings, and residential compounds housing diplomatic or humanitarian personnel. These types of incidents are particularly common in the capital city of Mogadishu and its surroundings, zones along the borders with Kenya and Ethiopia, and in the towns of Kismayo, Merka, Baidoa, and Beledweyne.

The security situation in the autonomous province of Puntland (northeast, comprising the regions of Bari, Nugal, North Mudug, East Sanaag, and East Sool) remains unstable due to regular armed clashes, the presence of Al-Shabaab militants, human trafficking, kidnappings, piracy, and political conflict. A small group of militants have also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and may become more active in the region. The pro-IS group has also made claims that they have staged executions in the Lower Shabelle area. These attacks have not been confirmed by other reliable sources.

The secessionist province of Somaliland is not exempt from the issues affecting the rest of the country. Islamist militias are present and as such the risk of terrorist attacks is high, including in Hargeisa, the provincial capital.

Furthermore, tensions exist between Somaliland and Puntland regarding the demarcation of their shared border in the Sool and Sanaag regions. Tensions significantly increased in early January 2018, after Somaliland forces occupied the town of Tukarak in the Sool region, pushing out Puntland forces from the area. Several minor clashes took place in January 2018 as both sides deployed additional soldiers around Tukarak.         

Journalists and humanitarian personnel in all parts of the country are often specifically targeted in kidnappings, terrorist attacks and assassinations.

TERRORISM

More than 25 years of conflict and a political vacuum have allowed a number of militant Islamist groups to flourish within the country. Since 2006, Somalia has been challenged by the emergence of the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, founded in response to Ethiopian military operations against Islamist groups. Though the group pledged allegiance to Al-Qa'ida in 2012, an emerging IS presence, particularly in the north of the country, is attracting younger members of Al-Shabaab leading to internal conflict.

The African Union's peacekeeping mission, AMISOM, has been operating in the country since 2007 and has liberated several towns and cities from Al-Shabaab control; however, the group remains entrenched in large swaths of the south and center of the country. The Kenyan and Ethiopian border regions, Mogadishu, and the towns of Kismayo, Merka, Baidoa, and Beledweyne have been brought under the (relative) control of the central government but continue to be regularly targeted by Al-Shabaab. Despite the presence of government and AMISOM troops, they are unable to guarantee security in these areas.

Attacks (targeted assassinations, roadside bombs, grenades, car bombings, suicide bombings) are regularly carried out in Mogadishu. Symbols of federal government power (members of parliament, ministries, military establishments) are often targeted.

Other typical targets include restaurants, hotels, and cafés frequented by government officials or off-duty members of the security forces. On the night of June 14, 2017, Al-Shabaab fighters detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) outside of two popular restaurants in Mogadishu; following the explosion, six militants took a number of people hostages and barricaded themselves in one of the restaurants. At least 19 people and five soldiers were killed, along with all of the attackers after security forces secured the area almost 11 hours later. The number of under-vehicle improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as targeted assassinations has risen in recent months in the capital. On October 14, 2017, a large truck VBIED detonated outside the Safari hotel in Mogadishu's Hodan district killing over 300 people and wounding over 500. Assessments at the time indicate that the Safari hotel was not the intended target of the attack and that the likely target was the Medina Gate entrance to MIA. The driver is believed to have detonated the VBIED prematurely after having been interdicted by security forces in the area of the city's K5 junction.

KIDNAPPING

The risk of kidnapping is extremely high throughout the country, particularly in Mogadishu and in the southern and central regions. Foreigners in all professions are targeted by armed groups for both political and criminal (financial) motives. Gangs involved in maritime piracy have also been known to carry out kidnappings, particularly in the province of Mudug (within the Harardhere-Galkayo-Garaad triangle). On February 23, 2017, three people working for the humanitarian organization Save the Children were abducted along with their driver near Beledweyne, Hiraan region. On July 15 and 21, Al-Shabaab kidnapped a total of ten local national aid workers in separate incidents near Baidoa in Bay region and Farlibaax in Hiraan region; the kidnappings were financially motivated.

CRIME

Crime rates are high nationwide, in large part due to the overall poor security situation. Murders, armed robberies, extortion, and kidnappings are all common.

MARITIME PIRACY

The first successful act of piracy since 2012 occurred on March 13, 2017, when a Comoros-flagged Aris 13 freighter was hijacked off of the coast of Puntland. All eight crew members were released unharmed on March 18 following negotiation with local elders.  While there have been few successful acts of piracy off the coast since 2012 thanks to a major international fleet deployed in the area (Operation Atalante), the risk of maritime piracy along the Somali coast - spanning 1000 km (600 mi) from the Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean - remains high. Commercial, cruise ships, and fishing vessels continue to be violently attacked, with hostages regularly taken. Pleasure boating is therefore strongly discouraged in the area. Ship captains are required to declare their movements in advance to the European Union's Operation Atalante and the French Contrôle Naval Volontaire, present in the Indian Ocean.

SOCIOPOLITICAL RISKS

The collapse of the Somali state in 1991 led to a power vacuum, which various clans then attempted to fill. Somali society is largely based on clan networks and this has a major impact on domestic politics. Tensions between families regarding power (local and central) and related benefits dominate the political landscape. These circumstances have led to the creation of autonomous administrative regions such as Puntland, Galmudug, and Somaliland, leaving the south of the country in total political chaos.

Despite the establishment of a national transition government in 2000, chaos persists due to the federal government's lack of authority and legitimacy outside of Mogadishu. The transitional government, in power from 2000 to 2012, has since become the permanent government but still suffers from the same issues. While the government is internationally recognized, its power remains stunted, its functional capacities limited, and is plagued by systemic corruption. Additionally, the balance of power between the central and state governments is unclear, leading to significant tensions.

Presidential elections were held on February 8, 2017, and resulted in the victory of Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, a former prime minister. President Farmajo's administration is working hard to fight endemic corruption, collect revenue, and pay government employees - including the security forces - regular salaries and deliver services to the population. However, the reforms remain embryonic and stymied by clan-driven opposition.

Generally speaking, protests are common in Somalia and can quickly turn violent. All protests should be avoided.

SOCIOECONOMIC RISK and HUMANITARIAN SITUATION

Somalia remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite increasing investment and remittances sent to the country by the Somali diaspora.

A large part of economic activity takes place in the informal sector. While the private sector is relatively dynamic, the public sector is largely non-existent and the government's budget depends almost entirely on international donor aid.

Furthermore, the economy is largely agrarian and the country regularly experiences devastating droughts. Almost 50 percent of the population - i.e. 5.4 million people - are in need of humanitarian aid. Furthermore, armed groups often block humanitarian aid from reaching its intended recipients, exacerbating a near-endemic famine. The situation has resulted in mass population migration and overcrowding in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, increasing the risk of disease and heightening crime rates. Somalis comprise 30 percent of the total refugees in East Africa.

TRANSPORTATION

Roads throughout the country are in poor condition as they are generally neither maintained nor lit at night and traffic lights are rare. As such, driving can be a dangerous activity; it is advisable to avoid all road travel after nightfall. Additionally, landmines and IEDs are an ever present danger.

Illegal roadblocks, highway banditry, and other violent crime can occur at any time in any locality. When traveling by car, doors should be locked and windows rolled-up. 

All road travel should be undertaken with an armed escort, in a convoy, and in an all-terrain vehicle. Always travel with sufficient stocks of water, food, and fuel, as well as the necessary equipment to deal with breakdowns (spare tire, jumper cables, etc.). Always carry an effective means of communication and back-up.

Operations at Mogadishu's Aden Adde International Airport (MGQ) are regularly suspended with little to no warning. Additionally, the airport and aircraft operating out of it are susceptible to attack, as was the case in February 2016, when a bomb was smuggled onto a flight. Security procedures and checks have been enhanced at MGQ; however, the fact that a bomb was able to be carried onto the plane in the first place indicates Al-Shabaab may have agents employed within the facility.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Cuts to water services and power outages are common across the country.

LEGAL

Sharia law is in effect in most of the country and should be respected.

Credit cards are generally not accepted. Travelers should arrive with sufficient cash reserves, ideally United States dollars.

HEALTH

Medical infrastructure is virtually non-existent. All visitors to the country are advised to take out traveler's health insurance that covers emergency medical evacuations and treatment in a third country.

Tap water is not potable and diarrheal diseases are widespread. Cases of severe diarrhea have been reported in the Lower Shabelle region and cholera is regularly reported in the Banaadir region. The continuing drought in Somalia has left approximately 5.4 million people requiring humanitarian support. As of the beginning of January 2018, there were over 79,000 reported cases of acute watery diarrhea (AWD) and cholera in the country, including 1159 deaths, since the beginning of 2017. It is imperative to only drink bottled or decontaminated water, to eat thoroughly cooked, peeled, or disinfected food, and to wash hands several times per day.

A vaccination against yellow fever - endemic in the south of the country - is required for travelers arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission, including travelers having transited for more than 12 hours through an airport of a country where yellow fever is endemic.

Malaria is widespread; visitors are advised to consult their doctor regarding antimalarial medications, to make use of mosquito netting when sleeping, to use insect repellent, and wear long-sleeved clothing.

Dengue fever, another mosquito borne disease, is also present in Somalia. Care for prevention of Malaria equally applies to Dengue fever.

Rift Valley Fever has been reported in the south.

To avoid contracting a parasitic disease, do not bathe or wash clothing in bodies of fresh water and refrain from walking barefoot outside.

Although polio is no longer endemic in Somalia, outbreaks are still possible. A vaccine is available.

As rates of HIV-AIDS are relatively high, necessary precautions should be taken. 

Finally, tuberculosis and measles are present in the country. Within the first six months of 2017, there have been 12,000 suspected cases of measles, with half of the cases affecting children under the age of five.

Climate

Somalia has an arid climate which is slightly more temperate along the coast.

There are two rainy seasons, from March to May and again from September to December. The air is very hot and dry between December and February. In the north, temperatures are generally higher than in the rest of the country and the region also receives less rain. The coastal regions are very dry. During the summer months, monsoon winds bring slightly lower temperatures.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +252

There are no emergency services in Somalia.

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

More